CIA/Lockheed A-12 cum USAF/Lockheed SR-71 series of aircraft

Steve Pace

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What an amazing series of aircraft these became. Here was an airframe and powerplant combination that simply could not be beat. It's been nearly 48 years since the A-12 first flew, 47 years since the YF-12 took flight, and 46 years for the SR-71. Yet, each type still looks futuristic! Moreover, in my opinion, this combination of aircraft was responsible for killing both the B-70 and the F-108...
 

Michel Van

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Re: Have 1,000,000? Buy SR-71 Vertical Tail Rudderon Ebay!

ONE MILLION U$ DOLLAR !? :eek:
 

F-14D

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This year is the 50th anniversary of many things:

The Cuban Missile Crisis

The death of Marilyn Monroe

The Beatles settling on their final personnel line-up and their first hit

The first James Bond film

anything else? ...oh yeah, on April 26th,

The first flight of the Lockheed Blackbird.
 

crabanero

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Re: Have 1,000,000? Buy SR-71 Vertical Tail Rudderon Ebay!


SR-71A #61-7955 is on display at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AFB, CA. Construction started on 13 May 1964 and #955 first flew on 17 August 1965 with Weaver and Andre at the controls. Throughout its career, this aircraft served as the Palmdale test aircraft until being replaced by SR-71A #61-7972 in 1985. Last flown on 24 January 1985, #955 accumulated 1993.7 hours of flight time.

 

GeorgeA

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Re: Have 1,000,000? Buy SR-71 Vertical Tail Rudderon Ebay!

He's also currently selling crochet hooks for seven bucks American. Kind of an interesting inventory spread no?
 

Stargazer2006

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Re: Have 1,000,000? Buy SR-71 Vertical Tail Rudderon Ebay!

However historical and rare, I cannot see what could possibly justify paying a million bucks for this. Plus it doesn't even make for a nice coffee table or tool board... It's annoying enough when big money goes to warfare instead of schooling or medication, it's even worse when it goes to reformed military material! And if I DID have that much money and nothing to do with it, I'd much prefer a complete aircraft! A million bucks can get you some decent warbird to fly at the weekends and at fly-ins. But a rudderon??
 

Nigelhg

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galgot said:
Brian Shul on piloting the SR-71 (not only), worth watching B) :

Just watched this- great lecture and inspirational- thanks for posting!
 

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Dear friends,
during a research on the Mach 3 aircraf I came across this picture.
As always, I forgot to write down the source and now I do not know where it came from. I saw it published at least twice and labeled as "the first A-12" or "the first YF-12".
The picture, however, seems a bit suspicious because there is no trace of the chines typical of the whole Blackbird family. Is it an optical effect, is it a fake or did a first Blackbird exist with a tubular fuselage?
Thanks in advance
Nico
 

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Arjen

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Look closely at the fuselage, you will note the triangular pattern near the lower edge. That pattern is the outward manifestation of the chine's internal structure. The chine's lower surface is completely invisible, because of the angle at which the image was taken.
This is an image of an A-12. The YF-12's two-man cockpit sat higher on the fuselage to offer the pilot a view over the YF-12's very prominent radome.
 

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Arjen said:
Look closely at the fuselage, you will note the triangular pattern near the lower edge. That pattern is the outward manifestation of the chine's internal structure. The chine's lower surface is completely invisible, because of the angle at which the image was taken.
This is an image of an A-12. The YF-12's two-man cockpit sat higher on the fuselage to offer the pilot a view over the YF-12's very prominent radome.
Another clue it's not a YF-12 is the radome on the only flying models did not have chines reaching to the tip of the nose, unlike the other versions of the Blackbird. I believe the production F-12Bs were supposed to get a revised radome that did have chines, but the prototypes did not.
 

bob225

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Evening all,

The SR-71 is often referred to as the first "stealth" aircraft, but do we know how good it was? is there any record or information as to how small it's radar return was?
Obviously it's not as good as the F117 but was it successful?

Cheers
 

Archibald

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Seemed to have been relatively stealth, unfortunately when it flew at Mach 3 the heat / IR signatures ruined the day, somewhat. Plus its large reflective size... probably not too good.

The D-21 drone was an atempt to shrink the size and make it less visible on radar. Seemed to have been a success: the four (failed) missions at least completely evaded chinese radars.

The real breakthrough was when they slowed back to subsonic. The first stealth (reconnaissance) flying vehicle was neither the Have Blue nor the F-117, but the Ryan AQM-91 drone.

Same mission as per the D-21, but much slower and more stealth: spying the chinese Lop Nor nuclear test site. Corner of no and where, 2000 miles inland. Even SR-71s could not fly there and back, plus the goddam SA-2s...

And then Nixon got his breakthrough with China and both "super drones" (D-21B and AQM-91) were canned, respectively with 4 failed and 0 missions.

 

taildragger

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Post here just for the picture , rare to see a good res image (1151x2048) of the top in bare titanium :

View attachment 614233

Twin seat A-12 Titanium Goose Displayed at California Museum of Science, Los Angeles, Ca.
Interesting that the periphery of the airframe (chines, leading edge, trailing edge) appear to be metal, I had always understood these areas to be composed of wedges of a RAM material, explaining why they're usually black even on otherwise unpainted airframes. A couple of theories:
- Titanium skin was used on the peripheries of some airframes not expected to fly in harms way in order to reduce maintenance costs
- The RAM material is removed from aircraft when they're retired to museums (for security and/or hazmat reasons) and somebody decided not to paint this example.
Also, I wonder why the fleet was painted at all. At the speed and altitude at which operational missions were flown, visual camouflage can't have been the reason. The paint may have had RAM properties, which would explain why it was initially applied to the periphery only (which would seem prone to generating tactically important radar reflections). Or maybe it helped with heat rejection.
 

taildragger

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Another Blackbird question:
Why are there no photos available of a blackbird flying at it's operational speed. These would be distinctive because the airframe, as every description notes, glows cherry red and the shock cones retract into the inlets.
I'm certain that such photos were taken. After spending billions developing a ground-breaking system, what sort of test program would neglect photographic documentation of the hardware performing in it's operational environment? I suspect that the photos reveal something about high-speed flight technology that the USG preferred to keep to itself. With the Chinese and Russians deploying hypersonic missiles though, I suspect the security concerns are moot these days.
I once put this question to Brian Shul, noted sled driver and author, and he replied with a dismissive question about "Well, how could you take a photo like that - from another SR-71 flying in formation?" It was an unworthy response, the USAF (or maybe now its the Space Force) routinely photographs satellites in orbit from the ground and if nothing else, the cameras used in the SR-71 could be turned upside down and mounted on the ground to take such a photo.
The same question could be asked about the space shuttle or any other reentry vehicle. Photos of the damaged Columbia shuttle in orbit taken from the ground are publicly available but, as far as I know, nothing of the shuttles during reentry (other than those taken by bystanders of Columbia breaking up over Texas).
I wonder if such photos will ever be released and, if so, what they'll reveal.
 

Whisperstream

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So-called “plastic” parts, consisting of silicone-asbestos and phenyl silane glass laminates, made up most of the peripheral assemblies on the A-12 and SR-71 series aircraft. The forward fuselage chines, wing edges, inlet spike cone, tailcone, and vertical stabilizers used these materials extensively. Composite honeycomb sandwich skin panels, some over one inch thick, were fastened to the underlying titanium framework and were easily removed for maintenance or replacement. They were applied to areas that typically experienced 400˚F to 750˚F during high-speed cruise. Not all Blackbirds used such extensive amounts of plastic components. On the first A-12, the A-12T trainer, and all three YF-12A interceptors, the silicone-asbestos panels were replaced with A-110AT titanium alloy skin supported by hat-section stiffeners.

The Blackbirds ultimately earned their nickname because they were coated with a high-emissivity black paint for improved heat radiation, thus reducing thermal stresses on the airframe. Although the first A-12 flew unpainted, engineers soon realized it would be advantageous to exploit Kirchoff’s law of Radiation that describes how a good heat absorber, such as any extremely dark object, is also an efficient heat emitter. Although convective heating decreases with increasing altitude, heat radiation occurs independently of altitude. Initial efforts involved application of black paint only to the airplane’s edges and cockpit area. The earliest paint scheme used on the A-12, AF-12 (YF-12A), and M-21, and intended for use on the R-12 (SR-71), involved painting the periphery black and leaving the rest of the airframe natural metal. Beginning in late 1963, however, Skunk Works engineers began painting the A-12 fleet and subsequent variants entirely black. This improved heat emission and made the airplanes less visible from the ground since they no longer strongly reflected the sun during high-altitude flight.

Many sources have called this material "iron ball" paint, implying that it contained ferrites for radar signature reduction. I have, however, found the paint used on the Blackbirds to be non-magnetic. I suspect it was more likely a copper oxide material, which has excellent dielectric qualities.


Post here just for the picture , rare to see a good res image (1151x2048) of the top in bare titanium :

View attachment 614233

Twin seat A-12 Titanium Goose Displayed at California Museum of Science, Los Angeles, Ca.
Interesting that the periphery of the airframe (chines, leading edge, trailing edge) appear to be metal, I had always understood these areas to be composed of wedges of a RAM material, explaining why they're usually black even on otherwise unpainted airframes. A couple of theories:
- Titanium skin was used on the peripheries of some airframes not expected to fly in harms way in order to reduce maintenance costs
- The RAM material is removed from aircraft when they're retired to museums (for security and/or hazmat reasons) and somebody decided not to paint this example.
Also, I wonder why the fleet was painted at all. At the speed and altitude at which operational missions were flown, visual camouflage can't have been the reason. The paint may have had RAM properties, which would explain why it was initially applied to the periphery only (which would seem prone to generating tactically important radar reflections). Or maybe it helped with heat rejection.
 

Orionblamblam

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Another Blackbird question:
Why are there no photos available of a blackbird flying at it's operational speed. These would be distinctive because the airframe, as every description notes, glows cherry red

"Every description" would seem to be wrong. The external skin of the SR-71 generally reaches a max temperature of less than 600 degrees F, which is well below incandescence in the visual spectrum. Things begin to visibly glow a dull red at about 977 degrees F.


SpuoD0QAIMsux8mjSJQIEgT-ptfKlgZboRLhGed0xSk.jpg



I once put this question to Brian Shul, noted sled driver and author, and he replied with a dismissive question about "Well, how could you take a photo like that - from another SR-71 flying in formation?" It was an unworthy response,

No, it's a perfectly cromulent response. An aircraft is a more difficult target than a satellite. A satellite - when caught in sunlight - is a bright speck against a dark background. An aircraft (in particular one 17 miles up) is a dark speck against a bright background. A satellite moves on a path so mathematically predictable that you can get within inches of it hours in advance, while aircraft are buffeted and subject to random jittering at the best of times.
 

TomcatViP

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We have famous pictures like the one shot from one SR-71 while crossing the path of another above the Pacific at Mach 3.

We also have the M-21 camera shot.

We also have the ejection sequence filmed from the ground.

However, the A-12 high speed early flights should be interesting to see (plasma stealth?).
 

Archibald

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We have famous pictures like the one shot from one SR-71 while crossing the path of another above the Pacific at Mach 3.

We also have the M-21 camera shot.

We also have the ejection sequence filmed from the ground.

However, the A-12 high speed early flights should be interesting to see (plasma stealth?).

Where can I see those ??
 

RLBH

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Even SR-71s could not fly there and back, plus the goddam SA-2s...
It's technically possible to get to Lop Nor with a U-2 or SR-71, provided you can base from, or refuel over, northern Pakistan. The U-2 mission isn't much more demanding than some of the early overflights into Soviet Central Asia from Turkey; with an SR-71, you'd need to get tankers very close to the Chinese border over the Karakorum Mountains. Politically very dodgy of course, since the refuelling might actually be over the India/Pakistan disputed area, and carrying out a manned overflight is inherently risky.

There's a second entry point further east over Bhutan, but you need to stage out of Diego Garcia and refuel over Bangladesh. Again politically challenging. Coming in from the east requires an aircraft with much more range than an SR-71. Of course, the original ARCHANGEL was supposed to have a 2,000 nautical mile unrefuelled radius, which would be adequate for the job, and I suspect that isn't entirely coincidence. D-21 would need a launch site over the Yellow Sea or Bay of Bengal, not impossible but not ideal, and COMPASS ARROW couldn't do it at all.
 

sienar

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Evening all,

The SR-71 is often referred to as the first "stealth" aircraft, but do we know how good it was? is there any record or information as to how small it's radar return was?
Obviously it's not as good as the F117 but was it successful?

Cheers

D-21
d21 rcs.png

A-12 - of doubtful usefulness since this is earlier in the program
a-12 rcs.png
 

Archibald

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It's technically possible to get to Lop Nor with a U-2 or SR-71, provided you can base from, or refuel over, northern Pakistan. The U-2 mission isn't much more demanding than some of the early overflights into Soviet Central Asia from Turkey;
- with an SR-71, you'd need to get tankers very close to the Chinese border over the Karakorum Mountains.
Politically very dodgy of course, since the refuelling might actually be over the India/Pakistan disputed area, and carrying out a manned overflight is inherently risky.


They did it. Not from Pakistan (not after Gary Power) but from India, after the 1962 war angered Nehru against both USSR and PRC.

This blew my mind. Charbatia ? Seems they flew three U-2 missions from Charbatia to Lop Nor and back, circa 1964. From memory, with ROCAF pilots.

Thanks for the info on SR-71.
 

taildragger

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I once put this question to Brian Shul, noted sled driver and author, and he replied with a dismissive question about "Well, how could you take a photo like that - from another SR-71 flying in formation?" It was an unworthy response,

No, it's a perfectly cromulent response. An aircraft is a more difficult target than a satellite. A satellite - when caught in sunlight - is a bright speck against a dark background. An aircraft (in particular one 17 miles up) is a dark speck against a bright background. A satellite moves on a path so mathematically predictable that you can get within inches of it hours in advance, while aircraft are buffeted and subject to random jittering at the best of times.
[/QUOTE]

The photo below was taken about 5 years after the start of the Blackbird's test program and I'm unaware of any revolutionary advances in tracking or photography that occurred in the interim. The subject vehicle is somewhat larger but is moving faster (6,164 mph) and at higher altitude (220,000 ft.) than the Blackbird family is generally believed capable of. As can be observed from the exhaust plume and shockwave (or whatever), aerodynamic forces are still in play. My understanding is that there was plenty of buffeting and random jittering going on. I'm not sure what cromulent means but don't think it applies.
1594153648509.png
 
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Orionblamblam

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The photo below was taken about 5 years after the start of the Blackbird's test program and I'm unaware of any revolutionary advances in tracking or photography that occurred in the interim. The subject vehicle is somewhat larger but is moving faster (6,164 mph) and at higher altitude (220,000 ft.) than the Blackbird family is generally believed capable of.


1) It's not just somewhat larger, it's a *lot* larger.
2) The vehicle isn't approaching from the dim vague distance, but was clearly observed from the beginning, RIGHT OVER THERE, with massive camera tracking rigs built for the purpose.
3) Launch vehicles go up and over, not more or less purely horizontal. That Saturn V isn't visible low in the sky, but *high* in the sky. Far less air to look through than something lower-yet-closer but closer tot he horizon.
4) Launch vehicle trajectories are pre-programmed; but whenever there's a divergence the manual trackers tended to lose them almost instantly.
5) Launch vehicles were painted *white* in large part so that they could be clearly seen. Look at the bottom of the Saturn V S-IC stage in your photo: it's dark... and essentially the same color as the background. All that you can see of the Saturn V is what's painted white; the black bits are truly invisible.

In order to be seen for a 1965 speed record run, a YF-12A was painted with a white cross. Without it, it would have been damned difficult to see at altitude.

Lockheed-YF-12A-60-6936-with-white-cross-on-belly-2.jpg


Before assuming some whackaloon conspiracy about the SR-71 family using "plasma stealth" or some such rubbish as an excuse for why it hasn't been photographed... find some photos of the U-2/TR-1 at altitude. Roughly the same color as the SR-17, roughly the same size (TR-1 span 103 feet, SR-71 length 107 feet), but flies a little lower (70K vs 85K) and a *lot* slower. Should be vastly easier to spot and photograph. Go ahead, look 'em up. Should be oodles of them.
 

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I am eager to learn more about radioactivity induced plasma and if (and then how) it was used on early A-12.
No bizarre theory here.
 

taildragger

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The photo below was taken about 5 years after the start of the Blackbird's test program and I'm unaware of any revolutionary advances in tracking or photography that occurred in the interim. The subject vehicle is somewhat larger but is moving faster (6,164 mph) and at higher altitude (220,000 ft.) than the Blackbird family is generally believed capable of.


1) It's not just somewhat larger, it's a *lot* larger.
2) The vehicle isn't approaching from the dim vague distance, but was clearly observed from the beginning, RIGHT OVER THERE, with massive camera tracking rigs built for the purpose.
3) Launch vehicles go up and over, not more or less purely horizontal. That Saturn V isn't visible low in the sky, but *high* in the sky. Far less air to look through than something lower-yet-closer but closer tot he horizon.
4) Launch vehicle trajectories are pre-programmed; but whenever there's a divergence the manual trackers tended to lose them almost instantly.
5) Launch vehicles were painted *white* in large part so that they could be clearly seen. Look at the bottom of the Saturn V S-IC stage in your photo: it's dark... and essentially the same color as the background. All that you can see of the Saturn V is what's painted white; the black bits are truly invisible.

In order to be seen for a 1965 speed record run, a YF-12A was painted with a white cross. Without it, it would have been damned difficult to see at altitude.

Lockheed-YF-12A-60-6936-with-white-cross-on-belly-2.jpg


Before assuming some whackaloon conspiracy about the SR-71 family using "plasma stealth" or some such rubbish as an excuse for why it hasn't been photographed... find some photos of the U-2/TR-1 at altitude. Roughly the same color as the SR-17, roughly the same size (TR-1 span 103 feet, SR-71 length 107 feet), but flies a little lower (70K vs 85K) and a *lot* slower. Should be vastly easier to spot and photograph. Go ahead, look 'em up. Should be oodles of them.
So your contention is that:
1. It was possible (in 1965) to track a Blackbird at speed and altitude when the aircraft was marked with a large white cross
2. This was done to support a speed record run
3. It's ridiculous to suppose that the same measures would be used to photographically document the airplane in its intended operational speed and altitude during it's test flight program. After spending billions of dollar and pushing many technologies into unprecedented territory. Because spyplanes fly low on the horizon and you couldn't pre-program a test flight to pass over a camera on schedule.
4. Suggestions that the USG might wish to restrict photos of a CIA-sponsored spyplane performing at a speed and altitude unreachable by any other aircraft, because they might reveal something of the technology employed are "whackadoodle".
Sorry, I lost your line of reasoning there somewhere.

BTW, you introduced "plasma-sheath" into the conversation.
I freely admit that I'm speculating but am touched by your certitude that 50+ years ago, when testing arguably the world's most advanced aircraft, no-one would think it worthwhile to document photographically it demonstrating unprecedented capabilities in conditions no aircraft had ever experienced before.
 

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So your contention is that:
1. It was possible (in 1965) to track a Blackbird at speed and altitude when the aircraft was marked with a large white cross
2. This was done to support a speed record run
3. It's ridiculous to suppose that the same measures would be used to photographically document the airplane in its intended operational speed and altitude during it's test flight program. After spending billions of dollar and pushing many technologies into unprecedented territory. Because spyplanes fly low on the horizon and you couldn't pre-program a test flight to pass over a camera on schedule.
4. Suggestions that the USG might wish to restrict photos of a CIA-sponsored spyplane performing at a speed and altitude unreachable by any other aircraft, because they might reveal something of the technology employed are "whackadoodle".
Sorry, I lost your line of reasoning there somewhere.


1: Correct.
2: Duh.
3: Incorrect.
4: Incorrect.

See what happens when you dream up strawmen and say "so your contention is..." rather than asking for clarification on points you clearly don't understand?


BTW, you introduced "plasma-sheath" into the conversation.

No, I didn't. Do a ctrl-F search for "plasma" and see where it pops up first.

Looking forward to your photos of the U-2 at altitude.
 

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We have famous pictures like the one shot from one SR-71 while crossing the path of another above the Pacific at Mach 3.

We also have the M-21 camera shot.

We also have the ejection sequence filmed from the ground.

However, the A-12 high speed early flights should be interesting to see (plasma stealth?).
 

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